The term “intersectional” was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University. Professor Crenshaw’s paper explained the oppression of African American women by examining the intersection between gender and race and acknowledging the multifacedted dimensions of an African American woman’s experience.
This term has now been extended into the sustainability movement. Instead of examining gender and race, intersectional environmentalism represents an inclusive version of environmentalism that examines the intersection of social justice and environmental activism. It acknowledges the inequitable burdens of climate effect on marginalized communities. For example, not only is it more difficult for BIPOC to have access to clean water and air, but minority and low income families are also statistically more likely to have access to and live in areas exposed to environmentally hazardous conditions. On top of this, the UCC’s Report on Toxic Waste and Race found that hazardous waste dumps are more likely to be located in these minority and low income communities.
“Environmental justice is the intersection of both social justice and environmentalism, where the inequity in environmental degradation is also considered.” - Leah Thomas
Why is it Important?
As we work towards a more sustainable future it is important to consider which communities are most vulnerable, most at risk of climate effects, and need the most protection from environmental policy. In order for sustainability to be truly effective, it needs to be inclusive. It is important to not only listen to communities most affected by climate change, but to elevate their voices.
From disproportionate exposure to hazardous waste and toxins to disparities in food security, it is vital to stay educated and active to ensure a sustainable future for everyone.
Here are some ways to be more inclusive in our environmental activism:
1. Learn more about Intersectional Environmentalism
- Browse: Intersectional Environmentalist.com
- Watch: A Brief History of Environmental Justice
- Follow: Intersectional Environmentalist on IG
2. Get Involved with Environmental Justice Groups
Center for Diversity and The Environment
- Center for Health, Environment and Justice
- East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice
- Green for All
3. Voices to Spotlight
Personal Website: https://www.greengirlleah.com/
Lea Thomas is a recent graduate from Chapman University with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy and she is using her expertise to educate the public on intersectional environmentalism. Thomas gives talks on sustainable living, beauty, and environmental justice; helps brands integrate intersectional environmental initiatives into their core values, and writes educational articles. She has been interviewed by 1% for the Planet and her writing has been featured by the likes of Vogue, The Good Trade,Youth to the People, Christy Dawn, and more. Lea Thomas is spearheading the campaign to make environmentalism more accessible to all. View Thomas’ website, Intersectional Environmentalist, to stay updated on her latest works.
Recognizing the lack of diversity in the environmental movement, Teresa Baker works to include more people of color in the conversation on conservation. In 2013, Baker lead the African American Parks Event where she encouraged the African American community to participate in their local National Park through guided hikes and clean-ups. In 2014, the African American Parks Event focused on the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, an African American regiment that became some of the nation’s first park rangers; spotlighting the African American community’s deep history within National Parks and encouraging the community to actively participate in conservation efforts. Baker’s work continues to drive us towards a more diverse and inclusive environmental movement.
4. Rising Voices
Vanessa Nakate is a Ugandan climate activist who founded the Rise Up Climate Movement. Rise Up works to elevate the voices of activists from Africa and raises awareness to the dangers of climate change. Nakate was also the first Fridays for Future Activist in Uganda, spearheaded the efforts to save the Congo rainforest from deforestation, spoke at COP25, and is now working on a mass installation of solar stoves in schools.
Kianni is an Iranian climate activist and founder of Climate Cardinals. Kianni realized that most information regarding climate change is only available in english; excluding many communities most impacted by climate change. With Climate Cardinals, Kianni and her team translate climate information into over 100 languages; educating and empowering communities to tackle climate change and making environmental activism more accessible and inclusive.
IG - @elsamengistu
At just 18, Elsa Mengitstu has made a name for herself. She currently works as Zero Hour’s Operations Manager and organized the Climate Strike on D.C as well as the Miami Climate Summit. Mengitstu is also on the committee to plan the Power Shift 2021 climate justice training conference. This conference will prepare and train organizers to effectively address climate change during the next presidential term. Mengitstu poignantly comments on intersectional environmentalism:
“If we don't work on climate justice, then we can't work on any kind of justice. Protecting the planet is also about protecting the people on it. Climate justice and organizing gives us the sense and tools to not only fight for Mother Earth but for the lives of everybody here as well. That's why we should care.”